By Sara Medlicott,
A class with Chef Instructor and ICC Alum Michelle Doll Olson might feel a little like you stepped into a comedy club with a two pastry minimum. Perhaps that’s due to her background at Stella Alder Conservatory and Upright Citizens Brigade.
The self proclaimed “98% ham” has a way with words and she will absolutely keep you awake after the sugar crash. Chef Michelle moved to New York with the intention of modeling and acting. Luckily for us here at ICC her “startled look” wasn’t in demand. She found herself managing the Creative Services department at Sesame Street and from there went on to work with modeling agencies, Corporate Identity Design and Branding.
All the while though, Chef Michelle was baking. She started young, teaching herself and yet it never occurred to her to be a chef until her late 20s. An illicit cable hook up inherited with her apartment introduced her to Food Network’s original programming from the 90s. Particular favorites were Dean Jacques Torres’ Pastry Circus and Gale Grand’s Sweet Dreams. “I simply HAD to learn how to do what they were doing,” said Chef Michelle, “Once I dipped my toe in, I was hooked.” Little did she know, after completing the ICC night pastry program in 2004 she herself would be featured on Food Network first winning a throw down with ICC Alum Bobby Flay and later participating in other challenges and appearances.
Chef Michelle loves teaching here for the camaraderie with other instructors and students, “We continue to learn something new every day and that just deepens our understanding of the pastry world.” It’s hard for her to pick a favorite class to teach, but she does really enjoy the cake classes. Said Chef Michelle, “The students are so hungry for knowledge! (No pun intended!) They get so excited and it’s infectious… speaking of infectious I also like teaching sanitation because I’m probably a little weird.”
When she isn’t teaching, Chef Michelle keeps busy with Michelle Doll Makes (previously Michelle Doll Cakes.) While her main focus now is on teaching, she does still occasionally do cakes for friends and family. Last year, she was able to do a cake for Vogue! Chef Michelle also developed a class for Craftsy called Smart Baking Substitutions. After her father was diagnosed with diabetes, she was inspired to do more for her family and for people wanting to make healthier choices. She develops healthy alternatives without taking the fun out of baking. Chef Michelle would eventually love to do a cookbook on the topic. Or a cookbook on her nomadic upbringing as a self proclaimed Army brat.
The first cookbook to inspire Chef Michelle was Larousse Gastronomique. “The crazy depth of knowledge was exciting,” she said, “and it looked super cool on my bedside table.”
Before starting pastry school, she bought a copy of Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, “It scared the heck out of me. Would I really learn all these new crazy words and techniques? Now it’s like the back of my hand, splattered with chocolate.”
Some of her current favorite books are Dan Barber’s 3rd Plate and What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Said Chef Michelle, “We, as chefs, need to be conscious of not just the quality of our ingredients, but where they come from, are the farmers treated fairly? Is it responsibly farmed? What kind of carbon footprint is it leaving behind and finally how nutritious is it? I’ve definitely fallen down the rabbit hole and am doing as much as I can to decode what’s happening so I can make clear informed decisions. Sounds easier than it is.”
There you have it, comiedienne, artiste, sanitation enthusiast and food justice advocate; Chef Instructor Michelle does it all with a smile!
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